Dragons and Zombies

David Curnick

We are now half way through the congress and combination of jet lag and three long days of intense presentations and discussions have left some delegates, myself included, drifting between rooms like caffeinated zombies. Thankfully, Sunday was a day away from the conference halls with delegates given the time to visit the sites of Sydney and embrace the local culture.

We took the opportunity to visit some of the marine parks around Sydney and meet some of the local shark researchers here. After a quick trip across the harbour on the Manly ferry and renting some dive equipment, we headed down to the harbour to board our vessel. A strong westerly wind made the trip out to the dive site a little choppy so I don’t think anyone was feeling 100% when we arrived at the site! 

The dive site, Magic Point, is known as one of the best places in Australia to spot endangered grey nurse sharks which dwell in the caves that cut into the rocky shoreline. After descending down to ~16m, we approached one of these caves. Australian law rightly states that you aren’t allowed to enter, or get too close to, the cave to minimise disturbance on the sharks. So we all lined up outside the cave and waited patiently to see if any of the sharks would show themselves. We didn’t have to wait long! After a few minutes, a couple 2.5m females slowly emerged from the darkness and the first thing you noticed was their impressive dentition. It is easy to see why these sharks were feared and accused wrongly of several fatal shark attacks, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. They might look scary but they are timid and graceful sharks whose diet is predominately based on fish. As if that wasn’t enough sharks for one dive, we also spotted Port Jackson and wobbegong sharks too.

Port Jackson shark and cuttlefish
Port Jackson shark and cuttlefish

A wobblegong shark

However, the real highlight of the dive was the elusive and beautifully coloured weedy seadragons. We were lucky enough to spot two dragons, one of which was a pregnant male. Like their seahorse cousins, it is the male seadragons that carry the eggs along their undersides of their tails. I wish I could come back in a month when the hatchlings will start to emerge from their transparent eggs.

Weedy seadragon
Weedy seadragon

After a great day diving, it was back to the congress. Today was a big day for us as the Space for Nature report was officially presented to the congress. The public’s call for 50% spatial protection for nature went down well with the congress and twitter was awash with support too.

Space for Nature infographic

See the full infographic

Other campaigns like #NatureNeedsHalf have also supported the report and called for more ambitious conservation targets. This theme of ambition continued during High Seas surveillance session where the panel called for greater legislation and management of our high seas in the form of a multilateral international agreement. Outside of international law, the high seas have been dubbed a lawless free-for-all where industrial fishing and other extractive processes are often unregulated and overexploited. The session was summed up by Syvlia Earle – “we should be working to better understand our high seas rather than carving it up like a "Big Blue Goose".

The second half the congress will be focused on contributions to the Promise of Sydney. The promise will outline the direction we will take to, over the next ten years, ensure that protected areas are at the forefront of effective conservation. It is up to us all here in Sydney to make sure that the promise is both ambitious and upheld.

I am tweeting regularly from the conference, so for live updates follow me at @d_curnick@ZSLConservation or follow the congress at #WorldParksCongress.

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